Matisse through Poetry

By Ferriss, Jane Page | School Arts, October 1995 | Go to article overview

Matisse through Poetry


Ferriss, Jane Page, School Arts


Imagine students eagerly writing and discussing poetry in a high school art class. I had been looking for a new way to involve my students in art criticism when I realized we could use creative writing techniques to describe artwork.

Embarking on an adventure in poetry writing, we looked at paintings and responded with a variety of poetic forms. Not only did this technique help the students relate literature to the visual arts but also it provided an easy way for students to get in touch with the qualities, feelings and emotional aspects of art.

Using Haiku and Diamonte

I introduced a unit on Henri Matisse with slides, books and prints of his Tunisian paintings. The students, awaiting my usual questions related to the critical process (description, analysis, interpretation and judgment), were surprised when instead I asked them to describe the works using poetry.

We began with a Japanese verse form called haiku. This form traditionally is used to capture a moment or view of nature in three lines. Haiku is limited to seventeen syllables in lines of five syllables, seven syllables and five syllables. Because of haiku's inherent limitations, it forces the student to search for the best words that will fit. This technique relates to the interpretation aspect of the criticism process. The aesthetic meaning of the work and the more profound and touching aspects of art viewing were described in the students, haiku.

Next, I introduced a poetic form called diamonte. It involves writing different kinds of words in eight lines. …

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